Top business leaders are famously creative with their productivity strategies. Block CEO and former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey allegedly takes ice baths and eats only seven meals a week. Tala CEO Shivani Siroya does headstands to reboot after a long flight.
The lesson here isn’t necessarily to put down your sandwich or get upside down, however—it’s that successful people value productivity and find strategies to maximize it.
For entrepreneurs—who often face time and budget constraints—strategies that increase productivity can be particularly valuable. Finding the productivity hacks that work for you (and your team) can help you increase profits, decrease working hours, and position your business for long-term growth.
What is productivity?
Productivity is a measure of the efficiency of a process. Mathematically, it’s a ratio of inputs to outputs, where input represents the resources that go into a process and output represents the final product. The formula reads: productivity = output / input.
To improve productivity, you either need to increase the efficiency of a process (lowering your input) or increase the value of the product (raising your output).
How to measure productivity within your business
To measure productivity, you need to define inputs and outputs by the same unit. You can’t divide dollars by hours, for example, or birthday cakes by frustration. Business leaders typically manage this by assigning a dollar value to time spent on business tasks.
For example, let’s say that you are evaluating productivity for the process of creating and distributing a product whose price tag is $1,000. You value your team’s time at $200 an hour, and it takes you three hours to create and deliver the product. You also spend an additional $50 on shipping and materials.
Using the formula productivity = output / input, your productivity calculation looks like this:
Productivity = 1,000 / (200 x 3) + 50 = 1.54
A productivity score greater than one means you are making money, and a number less than one means you’re losing money.
You can use this method to measure the productivity of a particular process, the overall productivity of your business, or the productivity levels of individual employees.
7 tips for boosting productivity
In the critical early days of building a company, every minute (and every cent) counts. These seven productivity tips can help your team increase efficiency, maximizing investments of both.
- Make a to-do list and prioritize tasks
- Record processes
- Take breaks
- Listen to your team
- Channel Ulysses to beat procrastination
- Block your time
- Use productivity tools
1. Make a to-do list and prioritize tasks
Running a business is a lot of work—on a typical day, you might execute 60 tasks across 12 business areas. Don’t rely on memory to keep track of your responsibilities. Instead, make a to-do list and prioritize tasks, placing the highest-priority tasks at the top.
Business leaders sometimes use the Eisenhower matrix to prioritize tasks. This system categorizes tasks according to both importance and urgency:
- Urgent, important tasks go at the top of the list. Do these first.
- Urgent, unimportant tasks need to be completed soon, but not necessarily by you. Delegate these tasks when possible.
- Nonurgent, important tasks go lower on your list. Make a plan to complete these, but don’t let them distract you from more pressing issues.
- Nonurgent, unimportant tasks can be scheduled out, delegated, or deleted from your list entirely.
2. Record processes
Many business activities can be standardized. For example, every time you onboard a client, you’ll need to repeat similar tasks in a similar order. Spend time identifying and recording this process, taking note of both what you need to do and the order in which you need to do it.
Once you’ve standardized your process, You can delegate individual tasks (or even an entire process) to a team member. Writing a process down can also help you analyze it and eliminate inefficiencies or redundancies.
3. Take breaks
You are a finite resource—and your team members are too. Although you might be able to work for 14 hours a day for a few days at a time, long hours decrease productivity in the long term. Set boundaries to protect your physical and mental health, and encourage your employees to do the same.
Taking breaks can also help. Research shows that even short breaks can increase productivity, so intersperse productive time with other activities. Consider a walk around the block: physical exercise and exposure to natural light can increase cognitive abilities and boost your mood.
4. Listen to your team
Coach your team in productivity tips and practices—but don’t forget to also solicit feedback. Ask employees what changes to work environments or business processes might improve their productivity levels.
5. Channel Ulysses to beat procrastination
The hero of The Odyssey famously asked his crew to tie him to the mast of his ship so that he could listen to the sirens without going mad and steering the ship into the rocks—the typical result of hearing the siren song. Essentially, Ulysses defeated his own worst impulse. He didn’t overcome his temptation; he just made it impossible to act on. You can use a similar strategy to beat procrastination. If you’re tempted to put off a critical task, publicly commit to a deadline. If your product manager is counting on a key brief by Wednesday, you’ll be forced to put it in motion.
6. Block your time
Use time-blocking to enable focused work on a single task. Decline meetings, close your email, and notify your team members that you will be unavailable. This can be particularly helpful for boosting productivity on creative projects and other tasks that require intense focus. You can also use time blocks to take advantage of your most productive hours: If your productivity peaks before noon, reserve morning time for your most demanding tasks.
7. Use productivity tools
- Productivity tools. Productivity tools can help you save time and measure work productivity. Consider the following types of tools:
- Task-management apps. Apps like Todoist can help you keep and visualize an organized to-do list and synchronize your list across all of your devices. Recurring task functions can also automatically schedule quarterly, monthly, or weekly tasks.
- Project management tools. Project management tools like Asana and Trello can help business owners and team leads move projects from concept to delivery, streamline communications, and avoid losing track of key items or steps.
- Communication tools. Workplace communication tools like Slack allow you to send quick responses to questions from your team. Some also allow you to create ongoing conversation channels for specific projects or topics.
- Time-tracking tools. Tools like RescueTime and Harvest can help you measure productivity and improve time management by identifying if (and where) you are wasting time.
- Calendering apps. A calendaring app like Google Calendar can help you visualize your team’s schedule. You can set meetings, create time blocks, and save time during the scheduling process by viewing when your team members are available.
- Marketing automation tools. Many marketing tasks can be automated. Consider using a social media scheduling tool, like Sprout Social, or an email automation tool, like Hubspot. Your ecommerce platform might also offer built-in marketing automation functions. For example, Shopify offers email marketing automations, customer relationship management (CRM) automations, and Facebook advertising automations.
- Proofreading tools. Apps like Grammarly and Hemingway Editor can quickly scan a document, identify errors, and recommend changes. Although you’ll still need to employ your team’s expert copywriter to evaluate suggestions and ensure consistency with your internal style guide, these apps can save time during the proofreading process.
- Focus-optimization tools. Tools like Kanban Flow and Focus To-Do use can improve productivity using the Pomodoro technique, a productivity system that breaks up your workday into periods of intense focus, interspersed with short breaks. If you get distracted by email notifications or are tempted to waste time scrolling through social media, you can also use a website blocker like Freedom or Cold Turkey to block specific sites or even the entire internet.
- Storage and organization tools. Cloud-based file storage and organization tools like Dropbox and Google Drive can help your team collaborate on projects and eliminate the need to send documents back and forth by email. Some also allow collaborative editing on a live document and let you see version history—you can easily view the most up-to-date version of a file and backtrack to previous versions if needed.
Productivity tips FAQ
How can I overcome procrastination to increase productivity?
Try these productivity hacks to beat procrastination:
- Follow the two-minute rule. The two-minute rule encourages you to complete small tasks right away. According to the rule, if you can do a task in two minutes or less, you should do it immediately.
- Follow the five-minute rule. If you’re tempted to procrastinate on a task, commit to working on it for just five minutes. You’ll make at least some progress, and you may be motivated to continue working past your requirement.
- Bribe yourself. Give yourself a little reward for the completion of a task. Worked two hours straight on your ecommerce store design? Congratulations; you get a Snickers. Finished monthly payroll? Sounds like it’s time for some TV.
Can taking breaks increase productivity?
Yes. Research shows that even a short break can increase productivity, and the benefits are even greater for breaks that incorporate physical exercise or exposure to natural light.
What role does technology play in enhancing productivity?
Digital productivity tools can automate processes, streamline communications, and help your team stay organized. They can also improve time management and help you measure your business’ overall productivity.
How can I set clear goals and priorities to increase productivity?
Try prioritizing tasks according to both importance and urgency. Do urgent, important tasks first, and delegate less important tasks to your team.